Last year, the question was whether the Oilers would choose the best available talent or draft for need (Ryan Murray). It’s early, but I thought they made the right decision at the time and I’ve seen nothing to sway that belief. What will they do this year, and what about some of the other players they picked in 2012? That and more after the jump.
1. I expect we’ll see the Oilers draft a goaltender early. Edmonton always seems to like having a ‘goalie of the future’ type in the pipeline, and while MacTavish may decide that isn’t so important the team doesn’t have a guy in that mold currently. Olivier Roy had an unimpressive AHL debut this year and Tyler Bunz’s professional debut was a couple of notches below “unimpressive” so it’s a clear organizational need. That, plus Bob Stauffer keeps asking high-ranking people in the organization about using a second round pick on a goalie; I’d guess that’s where the pick they got for Andrew Cogliano is going to be spent.
2. I also expect we’ll see the Oilers move down. Craig MacTavish made it pretty obvious the Oilers were looking at this in his year-end press conference:
I think that’s something we’re definitely going to look at, is doing something with that pick at seven. Whether we take seven or not will depend on what the market is out there, but we’d be I think at this point very receptive to moving back and picking up another pick potentially. It’s a very deep draft in my mind; I’ve only been involved in this one but there are tons of players out there that excite me, or possibly pick up somebody that can help us immediately and another pick.
The Oilers have two second-round draft picks but no selections in the third or fourth round (those picks were sent away for Mark Fistric and Jerred Smithson, respectively), so adding another early pick in what is expected to be a deep draft will doubtless appeal (particularly if they’re going to spendo ne of their relatively early picks on a goalie).
3. Draft for need or best player available? There is a vocal contingent of fans that would like to see the Oilers address need at the draft – “need” generally seen as skilled size up the middle and on defence. The argument for is that the Oilers have had difficulty acquiring those players and might need to get them through the draft; the argument against is that if the 6’2” centreman the team drafts is Marc Pouliot and the 5’11” winger the team passes on is Zach Parise, you look extremely stupid a few years down the road. My view: the team must draft the best player, and then if team need dictates they need to have the courage to trade him down the road. Maximize assets at the draft, cold-bloodedly make the best decisions for the team after – even if the best decision involves sending out a fan favourite.
4. 2012 picks: Mitch Moroz. Mitch Moroz did not have the offensive season that was expected of a player drafted where he was, but the organization says he’s fine. Here’s what Stu MacGregor had to say about Moroz on Oilers Now earlier this month:
I think Mitch Moroz is trending fine, there’s probably some people from time to time that worry about some things about Mitch but I don’t, he’s one of the toughest guys in the Western Hockey League. Teams in the NHL are still interested in getting his rights, have interest in him because of his physicality and strength; at this current time it’s always hard for a guy like that to figure out that fine line of when to be the tough guy and when to back off and he’s still trying to figure it out. Mitch has got to step up, he’s only 18, he has got another year of junior, he should have a great year next year with more of a role on that team.
It has been suggested to me that that Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal isn’t winning fans within the Oilers’ organization with his usage of Moroz, and while that may be a fair point but even so this was a terrible offensive year for the player. He had 13 goals and 34 points after managing 16 goals and 25 points a year ago; he had two goals and seven points in 22 playoff games after scoring four and eight in 20 last spring. Even MacGregor’s comments centre on the player’s strengths as a physical presence, rather than his abilities as a hockey player. Based on junior performance, Moroz looks a lot like an energy line player, and if that’s how things turn out it’s a very good bet the Oilers left talent on the board in 2012.
5. 2012 picks: Jujhar Khaira. The second big player the Oilers took a little earlier than consensus rankings would indicate was BCHL product Jujhar Khaira. So far, that pick looks inspired. Khaira had a strong season at Michigan Tech (37GP – 6G – 19A – 25PTS) and one of the best things about him is his age – he has an August 13 birthday, meaning that he’s almost a full year younger than a guy like Nail Yakupov drafted in the same class. Lowetide had him fourth in his most recent top-20 list, and I tend to agree that he’s the best forward prospect in the system.
6. 2012 picks: Daniil Zharkov. One of the lines in the sand I use for junior prospects is the point-per-game mark. Ideally, a drafted prospect who is going to make it as a scorer should be over the point-per-game mark in his draft year; there are exceptions but most who turn into NHL scorers seem to be at least at that level. There should also be significant year-over-year improvement going into the next season. Zharkov had 36 points in 50 games in his draft year, and improved to 43 points in 59 games this season. He is a goal-scorer (23 and 25 in those two years, respectively) and he does have size on his side, but this is a guy whose NHL potential is predicated on him being a scoring threat. If he can’t score at a well-above average clip in junior, how will he manage it as a professional? As Lowetide points out in the link above, he had a big second half; now he needs a big full season.
7. A [limited] opportunity in net. Right now, the Oilers’ minor-league goaltending prospects are kind of a mess. Olivier Roy was unimpressive in the AHL, Tyler Bunz was bad in the ECHL, and while the Oilers have now signed Frans Tuohimaa his performance in Europe was hardly dominant. The good news for all three is that at this represents an opportunity: if one of these guys can start next season well, he could get clear of the other two in a hurry and maybe play his way into the team’s NHL plans. If I had to pick the guy with the best shot I’d probably choose Tuohimaa, but based on careers there’s no clear gap here. All three are in significant danger of not getting another NHL deal once their entry-level contracts expire; if they can’t prove they’re worth keeping an eye on this season they may not get another chance.
8. Re-signing Mark Fistric. This is old news now, but a couple of weeks back Jim Matheson reported that the Oilers were interested in re-signing Mark Fistric at something close to his current rate (around $1.5 million per season) but that he wanted $2 million per year. He very well might get it, given the premium placed on size/physical game these days, but I’m not convinced the Oilers can afford that if he’s in the six/seven slot on their depth chart. It’s a good bet Fistric isn’t cracking the top-four, and if the Oilers are as bullish on improving their blue line/prospect Oscar Klefbom as they sound Fistric might even start in the seven slot if re-signed. If they’re going to re-sign him, they need to make room on the third pairing for him.
9. Should the Oilers look at Mikhail Grabovski? There has been some talk of the Maple Leafs centre as a buyout candidate after a miserable year, but I tend to agree with Lyle Richardson that it’s more likely Toronto will try to trade him while retaining a portion of his salary. Despite the poor season (Randy Carlyle didn’t help – Grabovski faced brutal opposition and started in his own end a ridiculous amount of the time) I see Grabovski as a very useful player with two problems. The first is that he’s small (5’11”, 183 pounds) and the second is that contract ($5.5 million cap hit for five years). But if Toronto’s willing to hang on to some money, he would be a fine replacement for Shawn Horcoff as a tough minutes centre. I don’t see him coming to Edmonton, but I do think some NHL team might get themselves a very good player at a reduced rate.
10. Do players without Cup rings belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame? My answer to that question is Ray Bourque. He was one of the game’s most dominant defencemen for two decades in Boston, winning not only the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year but also five times being named the NHL’s best defenceman. He won the Stanley Cup in Colorado in the final season of his career, but was that really the difference between being in or being out of the Hall of Fame? I can’t see it. If anything, the HHOF places too great an emphasis on Cup wins – depth players that happened to play for a dynasty are in the HHOF now, and because they were never close to being elite talents they really don’t belong there.
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The shot above comes from the always excellent Graphic Comments, with a look at everything in the playoffs so far. I highly recommend reading the whole piece, or feel free check out some recent pieces here at Oilers Nation: